Ending a nine-year squabble, the broadcasting, consumer electronics and computer industries are very close to an agreement on a technical standard for digital television.
"There is an agreement in principle" between the three industries, says Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) in Washington, DC.
At stake is the tremendous market for the next generation of high-definition televisions (HDTV), which will be fuelled in part by the convergence between television and computers. TVs and computers use different screen technologies and one major impediment to an accord has been which video transmission format the standard should anoint.
The computer industry has been fighting for the progressive format which computer screens currently use, while broadcasters and TV-set manufacturers have argued for the interlace format which they use, Wharton says. The technologies use different refresh strategies, with interlace technology displaying and refreshing every other horizontal line of information on the screen and progressive technology refreshing every single line, according to Wharton.
Rather than continued battling over which technology should be written into the digital TV standard, the parties have agreed to let the market decide.
"The deal is that as part of the FCC adoption of the new digital-TV standard, there will be no mention of video transmission format in that standard," Wharton says. "We're relying on the market to dictate the video tansmission format."
Initially, that format will likely be interlaced, but "there's a good chance that there will be a migration to progressive" format over time, Wharton says.
"The bottom line for us is this will hasten HDTV being sent to American consumers, and that's something that we see as a very positive development," Wharton says.
A spokewoman for a group of TV and consumer electronics manufacturers agrees.
HDTVs could be on the American market by mid-1998, says Cynthia Upson, vice-president of communications for the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association, an industry group in Arlington, Virginia.
The accord means "the American digital standard can start being used in this country and exported to other countries who might want to use our standard", Upson says.
Currently, there is a European digital HDTV standard, and the Japanese have an HDTV standard, but it's analogue, Upson says. "Since the world is going digital, the Japanese are looking very closely at our" standard, Upson says.